“This means anyone’s son could be accused of rape at any time!” or “How would you feel if you were judged by what you did at 17?”
I’m a sexual-assault survivor and the mother of a teenaged son. My heart hurts every time I see these posts (in reference to Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation) going around Facebook and Twitter.
Whether these are posted by well-meaning mothers or by Russian bots, I’m not sure. What I do know is that such posts are posted from a place of fear. And they attempt to spread more fear.
Let’s clear out the fear.
Let’s live in a world of enjoyable sex between enthusiastic, consenting partners.
What does that look like? Does it mean we need to teach our kids to be completely abstinent, or constantly interrupt their “sexy times” to ask consent?
FWIW, here’s what I tell my teenaged son:
1. BE INTERESTED IN THE OTHER PERSON’S RESPONSE TO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO / ARE DOING.
Did y’all see that Will Smith movie, “Hitch”? It’s not a perfect movie, but it has some of the best dating advice I’ve ever heard: “Go in for a kiss 90% of the way ... and hold.”
Why is this great advice? Because it signals where you’re at —“I’d like to kiss you on the lips”— and waits for a response. That response could be a lipper (kiss on the lips). It could be a cheeker. It could be a heart-wrenching handshake. But whatever the response, you are signaling your intention and leaving room for the other person to make their decision.
Later on, when things may be getting hot and heavy, stay interested in your partner’s response. Make eye contact. Do they like what you’re doing? Ask them if something feels good. Incidentally, this will only make sex better and more fun.
Tl;dr: Be interested in the person’s response.
2. THERE’S A LOT MORE TO SEX THAN PENETRATION.
Movies seem to show couples going straight from a kiss to intercourse. There’s a lot more fun that can be had. Explore, together. You don’t have to go in a straight line from lips to vaj, you don’t have to progress around certain bases, you don’t have to penetrate something with your penis to have fun. See what makes you feel good. Ask what makes them feel good. Figure it out together.
3. IF YOU CAN’T TALK ABOUT SEX WITH THE OTHER PERSON, YOU SURELY AREN’T READY TO HAVE SEX WITH THEM.
In heterosexual relationships, this includes the basics of birth control. In all relationships, this includes the basics of STD protection. You know what’s more awkward than needing a couple of tries to put on a condom? Herpes. Herpes is more awkward.
4. DO NOT MIX DRUGS / ALCOHOL WITH SEX.
Choose one or the other. Not both at the same time. Not when you’re young. Not when you don’t know your limits.
Being high, drunk, or otherwise altered radically diminishes your capacity to discern how the other person is responding. It also radically incapacitates your ability to make good decisions.
Same for your partner: if they’ve been drinking or taking stuff, no hanky-panky. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
When/if someone hands you a drink, a dose, a vape, or whatever: the deal you are making is to close the road to sex tonight. With alcohol/drugs, it’s enough work to stay safe, learn your limits, and get home safely without adding sex to the mix.
5. IF YOU’RE FOOLING AROUND AND YOU MAKE A MISTAKE, STOP AND APOLOGIZE. SAY YOU ARE SORRY.
Don’t blame your partner. Stay open, not defensive. Be humble. Look into their eyes, say you are very sorry, and mean it.
Sometimes we fumble. Braces can get caught while kissing. Certain holes are close together and you might confuse one for the other (even when you’ve been together a long time). Something might hurt that felt good before. A heartfelt apology means everything in these situations.
Which brings me to:
6. EITHER OF YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR MIND AT ANY TIME.
One of you might think you’re ready for something and then you get filled with panic. Just take deep breaths, back off for a moment, communicate what you’re feeling, and listen to your partner.
There’s always time to try again another time.
And if you feel like this is your only chance for something ... let that be a red flag. Something might be quite amiss in that scenario.
7. FOLLOW UP THE NEXT DAY.
Make plans to see the person, or text/call the next day. Let them know you care about their experience. You don’t have to be a weird robot: “Thank you for doing sex with me How are you Do you want to do sex with me again”. Um, no.
Just check in. Let them know you know they are a person. And you are a person. You’re both human, it’s all a process of unfolding and learning. Speaking of being a person:
8. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT.
Things can get out of hand at parties, especially with drugs/alcohol present. You want to be around friends who will keep you safe. And who won’t endanger others (especially girls) who are there.
If you don’t feel good about what’s happening somewhere, GTFO. Text us your secret code and we will come get you — and any friends who also need to GTFO.
9. IF YOU SEE SOMETHING BAD HAPPENING AT A PARTY, YOU MUST INTERVENE IF IT IS PHYSICALLY SAFE FOR YOU TO DO SO.
You don’t need to be some macho “hero to women everywhere.” You just need to be a decent person. Just as you are taught to interrupt racism and sexism, you need to stop an assault. Best case scenario is to stop it before it happens.
Humor goes a long way. If you are friends with someone who’s drinking and seems to be cornering someone or taking them to a closed bedroom, use your friendship to intervene: “Dude, y’all are wasted, stay here with all of us. So we can hold your hair back while you puke.” Or I don’t know, something like that.
If you know of something or see something and can’t stop it, you must tell a trusted adult what happened so we can take it from there.
10. FALSE CLAIMS _CAN_ HAPPEN, BUT THEY ARE EXCEEDINGLY, VANISHINGLY RARE.
If you follow all the above guidelines, I can’t imagine someone accusing you of sexual assault. But should it happen, there is a lot we can do. We can be humble and compassionate. We can breathe deeply. We can know that there is a distinctive pattern to false accusations — generally they are made in a certain way, under certain circumstances. I trust that in the vast majority of situations, the truth will out.
In the meantime: I believe women, and I know you do too.
Be safe, be good to those you are with, and remember: we are all in this together.
* reposted with very slight edits from my Facebook post on Sept. 25, 2018
Potty Training vs. Consumerism, or: How I Learned to Stop Buying Crap While Teaching My Child to Crap in a Potty
Potty training can be tricky. As a parent and a preschool teacher, I know this. God, do I know this. Throw in even a modicum of thought about consumerism and capitalism, and what do you get? A total mindf*ck, that’s what.
Go to almost any child development expert for potty-training advice and they inevitably say something like: When your child shows signs of ‘readiness’, take her to the store and let her pick out her own big-girl underpants and her own potty. This will give her a sense of ownership, pride, and control over the process.
I get why the experts say this, but then again, WHY DO THEY SAY THIS?
You’re a good parent and you want to do right by your child. Empowerment, guided choices, all that. And you can’t wait for your child to get out of diapers.
So you follow the advice. You find yourself standing in the (gender-segregated) kids’ underwear section of Target. Your child is illicitly standing, not sitting, in the red cart because you’re smart enough to choose your battles.
"I don't know any family that doesn't struggle over screen time."
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
Me: We are visiting your grandparents, for crap's sake. Get off the screen.
Son: NO WAY!!! Nooooo!
Me: YES way. Yeeeesssss.
Son: (gripping the iPad like Gollum holding the One Ring) THE iPAD IS LIFE! (direct quote, guys.)
Me: (Panicked. Embarrassed. Don't want to get into a full-blown power struggle at my in-laws. Whisper-hissing--) When we get home, we are doing full-on enforcement of some new Screen Time Rules.*
Son: (rolls eyes, already tapping the screen) Sure sure yeah now leave me alone.
Great googly wooglies. How did we get to this?
I'll tell you how we got to this.
And then I'll tell you what we did about it.
And I'm here to tell you: IT WORKED.
Here's what I'ma share with you:
- A Brief History of Our Family's Screen-Time Rules (Or: How We Got to This)
- Back to the in-laws' house, and The Three Things that Happened.
- Things that I, You, We All Need to Know about Screen Time.
- The Hard Reset of Screen-Time Rules -- The Rules, enumerated.
BE KIND, REWIND.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF OUR FAMILY'S SCREEN-TIME RULES (OR: HOW WE GOT TO NOW)
0-2 yrs old: No screen time at all. (Not even Baby Einstein, not even in the background.)
3 yrs old: 30 mins a day, A.K.A. The Year Of "Bob The Builder."
A friend suggested "Bob The Builder" for us kid-show virgins. - Me: "Is it... bad?" Her: "Well... Bob builds a yurt?"
A YURT?! YOU HAD ME AT HELLO.
Child got hooked on Bob. Huz and I did some quick back-of-the-napkin calculations and decided to limit him to five Bob STORIES a day. Not five episodes - five little STORIES. So that's between 20-30 minutes a day. And the struggle, she begins.
I hung a magnet board by the TV and divided it into "Bob Stories Watched Today" and "Bob Stories I Can Still Watch" sections and made five little Bob-The-Builder magnets and helped Child use it to log his daily stories because you know, self-management and choices and taking ownership and responsibility and teachable moments and all that.
Yes, I believe in that stuff. Yes, I made magnets. Hey, I've got a Master's Degree in Education from Harvard, y'all.
4 yrs old: We are approaching 45 mins a day. This was The Year of The Scholastic Storybook Collection. 100 classic stories, like "Where The Wild Things Are" and "Make Way for Ducklings," animated (just a little bit) with the pictures from the books. As far as screen time goes, this felt benign. (Benign-ish?)
5 yrs old: The Year of "Star Wars." I mean, Star Wars! Have you met me? Oh, Child, you want to watch "A New Hope"? First half today, and we'll finish watching it tomorrow.
6-7 yrs old: Holding more or less steady at about an hour. Thank you, PBS Kids.
8-11 yrs old: YouTube came into its own. An hour morphed into 90 minutes. The struggle, the daily "How much screen time have you had?" convo, she is A Big Part Of Our Day.
And then, thanks to a system of behavioral reward points that granted more screen time (NOT my idea), 90 minutes somehow became TWO HOURS A DAY. And that did not include texting or homework or "educational apps." Not because we intended that much screen time but because ... how to roll back? The Stampy Cats were out of the barn.
THAT BRINGS US BACK TO NOW.
AND THE THREE IMPORTANT THINGS THAT HAPPENED:
(If you're now humming "The Room Where it Happened" -- Hamilton forever!)
I'm at my in-laws FREAKING OUT about Child being an anti-social screen junky and I'm talking with my in-laws and husband about it and they are supportive and the huz is Right There With Me, and then three things happen:
I had a one of those 3 a.m. EUREKA! moments, except instead of the usual "wouldn't it be cool if dogs could climb trees and chase squirrels onto telephone wires" middle-of-the-night ideas, this one was PURE GENIUS.
You'll have to read the rules to find out what it was. Ooh! Suspense!
I was doing some reading and saw a book called
Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids -- And How to Break the Trance by Nicholas Kardaras.
And I was like, I AM READY FOR THIS BOOK. LET ME GET MY HANDS ON THIS BOOK.
So I bought the book and gave it to my husband for his birthday. (And then read it and then gave it back to him)
I mean, also it wasn't his ONLY present, guys.
Anyway, everyone should read this book. Seriously.
What are you waiting for? Go read it and come back here and we'll discuss.
Sure, the book's not perfect: it's a tad alarmist, relies on a lot of anecdotes, and there are parts in which homeslice author toots his own horn a little much. But even with those issues, this is an important book.
So let's take a moment to talk about screen time. Why IS it so bad, exactly?
THINGS I, YOU, WE ALL NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SCREEN TIME:
Why is too much screen time so bad?
--- Personally, because it was turning into power struggles and making it feel like my son was antisocial and because my gut told me This Is Not Good. And now I have some research and other smert people backing me up.
We're talking about a landslide of studies and evidence, as well as my (and probably your) own experience, education, observation, and intuition. Your parental intuition is important. Don't let anyone, including me, tell you otherwise.
--- Video games, apps, and social media are intentionally "game-ified" using a variable schedule of rewards, which makes rats and people crazy compulsive.
I mean we're going back to B.F. Skinner here, friends. Mice that get a reward randomly when they press a lever get more hooked than mice on a regular reward schedule.
Variable reward schedules raise cortisol levels and blood pressure and trigger dopamine. I don't know I'm not a scientist. But it's bad. And addicting. For real.
And I'm not just talking about slot machines and immersive video games. Ask your kid what happens in Minecraft when he digs for iron ore or redstone or whatever the f*ck. Is it found in a predictable pattern? Or is it scattered about randomly to keep you digging? I'll give you one guess.
--- Screens and tech in education? They tend to amplify what's already happening: they make bad things worse or good things only _slightly_ better, especially in primary grades. Generally, as Admiral Ackbar would say, "It's a trap!"
--- The younger the kid, the less screen time they should have. You know that The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for the littles, right?
--- Because go outside and play. Nature (a park, a yard, the woods) is super important for kids.
I know this can be very, very difficult for folks who live in the city and/or unsafe neighborhoods. But it's still a truism that we humans evolved in natural settings.
It seems pretty evident that humans require exposure to nature to function well.
--- Because let your kid be bored. Boredom is important, too. It's part of how we learn to be creative.
--- Social media and/or texting correlates to depression and anxiety.
You've probably experienced this yourself: the constant comparison of your real life to everyone else's idealized photos and posts. It's hard. And you're presumably a grown up.
Also, you know the addage "don't read the comments"? Because trolls and people being sh*tty online, especially when anonymous? Well, children and teens are particularly susceptible to perpetuating, bystanding, or being victimized by this kind of bullying.
The more "engaged" a child/teen is in social media, the more friends on Facebook, the more followers on Instagram, the more texts per day, the worse the outcome. Especially for girls. Because internet "friends" and followers, even in an ideal internet community, are not the same as genuine, face-to-face human connection. Which we need.
--- Kids need sleep. Kids and teens aren't getting enough sleep. Screens disrupt sleep.
--- There's some Very Disturbing stuff online.
I mean, come on, do I even need to insert a link to research verifying this fact? No, I don't.
Let's be honest: there's a lot of good stuff on the interwebs, and a lot of not-good-but-hella-entertaining stuff on the interwebs. (I give you... most of what I do online.) BUT there is also a LOT of Very Disturbing Stuff online. Snuff films, violent pornography, graphic violence and gore, Seriously, I'm no prude, but have you gone on Tumblr and typed "NSFW" in the search bar? Holy hentai, Batman.
It's very easy to find the disturbing stuff, either by accident or on purpose.
And kids cannot unsee what they've seen.
--- Preponderance of studies really do show that violent video games increase aggressive behaviors. The jury is still out on violent crimes and murders and stuff, but the evidence is in about "smaller" aggressions like biting, hitting, bullying.
The more "real" and immersive the violent simulation, the greater the potential problem.
Interesting side note: if a game shows blood, no matter how fake-looking, it seems to correlate to stronger aggression. So if there's a blood option, turn it off.
--- Screen time isn't just annoying or a bad habit, it is actually HURTING OUR KIDS.
--- Kids and teens don't need a lot of screen time in order to lay the groundwork for educational or professional successful in life. If you're a techie and you're freaking out because HOW WILL OUR KIDS BE PREPARED FOR THE FUTURE, settle down. Kids have time to learn to code. Later.
And know that a whole lot of tech geniuses and general smarty pantses limit their kids' screen time DRASTICALLY.
Steve Jobs sure did. And dude, Sasha and Malia get NO screen time in the White House during the week, unless it's for school. NONE.
So that brings us to---
OUR SCREEN-TIME RULES (HARD RESET EDITION).
Shared because we were struggling and this would have been helpful for me.
Also: PARENTAL SOLIDARITY FOREVER. The stricter you are with your kid, the less mean my husband and I look in comparison.
But seriously, and most importantly:
Screen time is hurting our kids. I certainly know how it affect/s/ed my own child.
So, our rules:
1. MAXIMUM 90 MINUTES daily screen time.
We considered 60 minutes and reserve the right to pare it back.
This still seems like a lot to me, but remember, it includes EVERYTHING: TV shows we watch together, playing Wii, tubing out on Netflix, perusing Youtube, playing Minecraft, emailing, texting.
It includes anything and everything on a screen, except when explicitly required for school.
2. Child is responsible for tracking screen time with the parent's-dream-come-true Moment app. He can check his time as needed, and plan accordingly.
We check on his use in Moment daily.
3. If Moment is "accidentally" turned off, the time it is turned off counts as screen time, no matter what.
Moment keeps track of the time it is turned off or otherwise tampered with, unless you completely delete it from your device.
Lest you think we're eeeevil, know that Moment will beep to let you know if you've turned it off, so if it's truly an accident, Child can turn it right back on.
4. Transparency! As Child learns appropriate texting and internet behavior, we have access to all his interactions, search/watch history, passwords, and accounts.
5. If Child exceeds 90 minutes of screen time, either accidentally or intentionally, DOUBLE that amount of time is deducted from tomorrow's time.
E.g. If Child uses 95 minutes of screen time Tuesday, Wednesday's limit will be 80 minutes -- because he went five minutes over, and ten is double those five minutes.
6. Certainly no social media accounts until 13 or otherwise specified by Snapchat or Insta or whatever.
We will not condone breaking those age requirements. We will let them help us!
Thanks, Facebook! Thanks, Instagram!
When he's "of age," then... we'll see. Still maybe not.
7. Sundays are "Screen-Free Sunday, Family Fun Day." We ALL unplug and go outside.
It's not just Child and kids and teens and Youth of Today who are screen-addicted. We're working on it, too.
8. NO screens for Child after 7 p.m.
TVs, computer, iPads, laptops DO NOT LIVE in Child's bedroom.
All devices are accounted for in the hallway every evening. Like us, they recharge together.
9. When we decide to get Child a phone, it will be a basic flip-phone.
I'd been waffling on giving him a hand-me-down iPhone. But after filling my noggin with all this screen-time information, that is not happening.
No, Child is Not Happy about this. Because Pokemon Go.
10. No first-person shooter games, period.
I don't care how awesome you think Grand Theft Auto is. It's bad for your soul. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
11. Our one "old" Wii is enough, we don't also need an Xbox or Playstation, so don't even ask.
And now, ready for that EUREKA genius moment I mentioned above?
12. EACH AND EVERY COMPLAINT ABOUT SCREEN TIME GETS TEN MINUTES DEDUCTED FROM TOMORROW'S SCREEN TIME.
I know, right? I'm a GENIUS.
Complaints are determined by Mom and Dad, and the general rule is, "If it sounds like a complaint, or just basically annoys us, say goodbye to ten minutes."
Want another ten gone? Give us a reason.
If you think this is a bridge too far, (1) you're wrong, and (2) complaining is a snow-balling cognitive habit that makes you more likely to complain again, so really we are helping him create good mental habits.
This is also why I think it's Really A Very Bad Idea to gripe about your spouse, but I suppose that's another blog post entirely.
13. Audiobooks and music do not count as screen time.
In fact, Moment (the app) doesn't register "listening" as screen time if the screen is off.
CUE ANGEL CHOIR, since music and audiobooks are great for kids.
14. You follow the rules of the house you're a guest in.
His local-grandparents' screen rules just happen --COUGH-- to be the same as ours. What are the chances?
When kids come to our house on Sundays, they know not to bring devices.
But no, these rules don't apply when Child is at a friend's house. We talk a lot about not using friends for screen time (!), and we trust his friends' parents to kick them out the door when they've had enough screen time.
And if that doesn't happen, well, c'est la vie.
15. We're not kicking Child off screens without offering alternatives.
Board games, family dinner time, reading out loud together, walks, and bike rides abound.
This is especially important in the beginning, while setting or rolling back limits.
Family fun notwithstanding, though, we parents are not put on this earth for Child's entertainment.
Be bored, kid.
Think of something good to do.
We love you.
AND GUESS WHAT YOU GUYS? IT WORKED.
It's only been a month, and of course it could all south at any moment. I mean, that's parenting, amiright?
But for now, our quality-of-family-life has improved DRAMATICALLY.
No more fighting about the iPad, no more lying about screen time. No more whining, no more agonizing.
And I feel like, if we need to, we can do another hard reset.
The biggest difference is that we know how to do it, we have evidence and research to share with Child about How Screens Affect Children's Brains, and ... we are in charge. For awhile there, it was starting to feel like the screens were in charge.
And in case you're wondering how Child feels about all this, I just asked him.
Me: How do you feel about the screen time rules?
Son: Am I allowed to say? Without getting a screen-time penalty if I complain?
Me: You can tell me just this once.
Son: I THINK IT SUCKS.
But you know what?
I think he secretly likes it.
Kids need limits, folks.
And, if nothing else, his dad and I are a lot less grumpy about screen time.
Hey, if you like this, share it.
Adopt or adapt this list for your own family.
The point is to be intentional, thoughtful, and kind, and make rules that
(1) are good for your kid/s, and
(2) work for your family.
Leave a comment, join the conversation. But first, please just do us both a favor and read the research, not just that one guy who says that video games do not make kids more criminally violent by citing one study over and over. And read the book. And download Moment and see how much YOU are addicted to your phone. Hoo doggy. You may be surprised.
May your locker open every time.
May your teachers laugh with you often, love you much, and teach you well.
May your crushes respond with a kindness that will keep your heart tender.
May your first kisses be mutually magical.
May you be good to others and disarm meanness with your kind heart and sharp wit.
May you keep knowing your true self and trusting your intuition.
May any pimples or inadvertent erections cause a bare minimum of embarrassment.
May you be mindful that, as overwhelming as your own changing body may be, the girls around you are dealing with periods and tampons, cramps and Advil, and breasts and bras. Be respectful and keep your eyes UP HERE.
May you recognize your friends--be they kid, animal, or adult--and know you are cherished for who you are now, and supported in who you want to become.
May you take care when you take risks.
May you continue to work hard, kindle your sparks, and remain open to mystery and not-knowing.
May you hold onto imagination and play, and hold off on screens and Snapchat.
May you return to The Source for quietude, peace, and inspiration.
May you know deep in your heart how ridiculously much we love you.
And as you walk your path, may you always, always bear in mind that-- every living thing in this extraordinary world: We Are All Connected And We Are All In This Together.
(reposted from a Facebook post Aug 22, 8:59am, because I always forget to post on my blog and then share on FB instead of the other way around.)
Full disclosure: I pray every night. On my knees, eyes closed, hands folded, the whole shebang. (I pray to the Great Spirit, or the Loving Spirit of the Universe, because that is God, but I have some issues with the word and concept of "God" as an old man in the sky, and as defined by-- and fought for by --many religions. I'm happy to talk more my beliefs, but later, okay).
For now, what I want to share is this, with full credit due to Annie Lamott:
HELP PLEASE, THANKS A TON, and: JUST -- WOW.
Backing up. For decades, I would only pray "THANKS" prayers. Prayers of gratitude, because I thought really, that's all that was necessary for my spiritual life. Focus on the gratitude.
Then came "HELP," about seven years ago. Not direct help for myself; but mainly because I wanted to be true to my word when I said I'd hold someone in the light. So I added "HELP" prayers. These are generally for others who I've seen or know about. I send love and visualize them surrounded by golden light. And what do you know? Later, I learned that the incomparable writer Annie Lamott talked about those kinds of prayers as the two main kinds. And I was like, "Yes, sister! 'Thanks' and 'help'! AMEN!"
Then I caught a whiff of her new title: Help, Thanks, Wow. And I was like, "Hmm." (Things that make you go, "hmm...")
So last month, I added "WOW" to my prayers. This means something that gave me a sense of awe or wonder that day. Nine times out of 10 (actually, more like 99 out of 100), my "Wow" is something from the natural world. The color of autumn leaves. The spots on a frog's back. The cotton-candy-colored sunset. The discovery of a new aspect of quantum mechanics.
Friends, "Wow" has been a transformative addition to my prayers. Because (1) it reminds me to get my ass outside, in (or adjacent to) nature, on the daily. (2) It blends the mystical and the scientific in a way that tingles all my bells, and (3) it puts all my human-level issues in immediate perspective.
So, thanks, Annie, and thanks, Great Spirit/LSotU.
And just... WOW.
There is nothing to writing.
Papa Hemingway and I don't have a lot in common, but if you asked me to describe the process of creating Believarexic, his words are most apt.
Writing Believarexic was an intensely personal and challenging experience. Some days it truly felt like I was opening a vein onto its pages.
But the response from readers has been humbling and deeply gratifying. Like, personal dance party gratifying (see below).
And so, I'm thrilled and grateful --and perhaps slightly terrified-- to announce the release of Believarexic into the wild.
It is available in hardcover (October 1) and e-book editions (October 6) wherever books are sold.
I hope you'll buy a copy today, and spread the word to your friends, students, and family.
Thanks for traveling this journey and dancing these dance parties with me.
May the force be with you, friends.
If you're local, please join me:
6 pm Friday, October 2 at Page 158 Books in Wake Forest for a reading & signing
7 pm Saturday, October 3 at The Regulator Bookshop for the Believarexic launch party!
★"Compelling and authentic,
this story is impossible to put down."
— Booklist starred review
"...a powerful story of healing and self-acceptance."
- Kirkus Reviews
So glamorous, an author's life, that on your big book release day,
you get your own 80s dance party celebration
...while putting away the dishes.
When you *thought* you were alone
Many of you know that I’ve long patrolled the world as a self-appointed Grammar Cop.
Dudes, you know me. I’ll whip out a Sharpie to correct a misused homonym on a poster. I’ll share “funny” “misuse of quotation marks” photos on Facebook. I try not to correct people’s grammar or pronunciation when they’re speaking, but even if I keep my mouth shut? I’m totally silently judging you.
My thinking has gone something like this:
1. The English language has definitive, time-honored, codified, teachable grammatical rules, which everyone can learn, and everyone should follow.
2. Utilizing these rules leads to clear, correct communication.
3. I mean, really. What’s so hard about correct spelling and grammar? If you can’t get it right, you’re not trying hard enough.
4. And honestly? I’m going to judge you for it.
Until… I just need one word to finish that sentence, really:
If you’ve been around me in real life or the interwebs, you know my son, Sam. And how much I love him. And how funny, smart, insightful, thoughtful, and wise he is.
He is also dyslexic. He has fairly profound dyslexia and other learning differences. (He approves of me sharing this. In his words, “It’s just how my brain works. Namasté, suckas.”)
Maybe I should back up a little bit. Beep, beep, beep.
Harken back to my expectations of parenthood.
Actually, further back: as a kid, I was in the Gifted & Talented program, and basically an all-around smartypants.
I’ve also had pretty severe anxiety and mental health issues since I was a kid.
My husband, on the other hand, is quite emotionally uh, healthy and stable, as well as being a freaking genius.
So, back to parenthood expectations: I figured we had a 50/50 shot at our offspring being anxious or whatever. I girded my loins for that, and was on the lookout.
But I also assumed said offspring would be clever and “gifted.” Academic troubles were Not On My Radar.
And so came Sam. And what are our children, if not a complete kick in the pants?
Sam has always been exactly who he is. I don’t know how else to say it. Anxious? Yup. Preschool? Nope. Late talker? Yup. Quirky? Yup. Hilarious? Yup. Mountain biker at age three? Yup. Excellent world traveler at age four? Yup. Ridiculous vocabulary? School anxiety? Double yup.
So far, no major surprises. Major struggles, yes. Surprises, no.
Until he learned to read. TRIED to learn to read.
Kindergarten (“reception” in Australia) came and went. First grade. Second grade. Excellent schools, excellent teachers. And: Not. Much. Progress.
We knew something wasn’t right. Multiple consultations and a serious outlay of cash, and we got the gist. Dyslexia and other learning differences.
To paraphrase the neuropsychologist: “He has certain ways of cognition and struggling that I’ve never seen quite so pronounced, not in fourteen years of testing. I’m not really sure how to deal with it, other than keep on doing what you’re doing.”
Er, thanks for your help?
So, back to the present. Sam struggles, mightily, with spelling, and grammar…basically most aspects of written language. And reading. And the way science and math are generally taught. Along with other things.
We are blessed and lucky to have wonderful, truly amazing local teachers and tutors who help him learn “the way that [his] brain works.” And we are even more fortunate that we can afford them.
It shouldn’t have taken my son to show me the error of my ways.
I should have realized ages back, when I was a kid, and I had classmates—one in particular, who was a brilliant poet—who were funny and interesting, but were swept off to the “resource room” for “special ed,” never to be seen by the rest of us “mainstream” or “gifted” kids again.
And so, MY BAD.
My bad that it took one of my own to get me here. But I am here now.
I understand now, that what I’m guilty of, friends, is hubris and snobbery at its worst.
Hubris: excessive pride and self-confidence. That means me being a smartypants.
Snobbery: the character or quality of being a person who believes that their tastes in a particular area are superior to those of other people. That means me thinking correct grammar is superior grammar.
I suspect I’ve made people feel bad, or inferior, or annoyed, or intimidated, or self-doubting, or otherwise hesitant to speak or write.
I apologize. I was so, so wrong.
I hereby renounce my self-appointed title of Grammar Cop. I’m turning in my badge and gun, Sarge.
Please, write down your thoughts. Talk to me. However it comes out—spelling and grammar be damned.
I hate that I’ve been missing out on what you have to say.
Now I’m listening.
Y'all. I wrote another letter to my legislators. I'm posting it to share, if you want to print it out and send it to your legislators. Feel free to download it and/or copy it. Make changes as you see fit, or use it just as it is.
Here are links to find the names and addresses of your elected representatives:
The President's address is The White House1600 Pennsylvania Ave NWWashington, DC 20500
Yep, it's an uphill struggle. But/and we're averaging almost 2 mass shootings A MONTH in the U.S. One voice, no matter how small, is louder than a thousand silent people.
Do you ever find yourself feeling a twang of the heartstrings before letting something go, even if it's silly?
Today is our last day with this sofa. It was the first big purchase my hubs (then boyfriend) and I made together, 15 years ago. Felt like a really big deal at the time. It's been through four moves, including being roped and hoisted up and over a third floor balcony in Boston. It's been home to many naps, studies, baby feedings, book revisions, and pillow forts.
Farewell, dear friend. You've served us well. May you bless your new home as much as you've blessed ours. We'll leave the treasures you hide in your deep recesses for your next family. And we'll come visit.
So I was signing on to Authors for Library Ebooks and I accidentally wrote a screed, which I might as well share here, since it uh, might otherwise never see the light of day. Their prompt:
Please tell us a little about you, your experiences with libraries and/or why this issue is important to you and your readers.
My response/accidental diatribe:
Library access to ebooks is important to me because LIBRARIES are important to me. My small-town library was everything to me growing up: escape, information, inspiration. And nowadays, as a grown up and parent and author and booklover, I still use the library every week. Okay, sure, I like when people buy my books -- but what is much, much more important to me is that people READ my books. Or any books. Read anything and everything. Everyone in this country (actually, everyone in the world, but I guess I'll stick to this country for now) should be able to get their hands on any book they wish to read. EVERYONE. Children, teenagers, waitresses, college students, factory workers, night shift janitors, retirees, the poor, the rich, everyone. Regardless of ability, or inclination, to pay. Okay, stepping down from my soapbox. Rant. Sorry.
Anyhoo. What was the question? Oh yes: ebooks. Look, I don't know everything, but I do know this: publishers are terrified that technology is changing the landscape of publishing. And hey, it's okay to be scared; I get freaked out all the time. But you know what? Change is what makes the world go around. Or maybe it's physics? Like I said, I don't know everything.
My point, and I do have one, is this: let's embrace the promising aspects of technology (e.g. the fact that e-books don't wear out after multiple uses --to say nothing of the wonderful fact that you can read an ebook after lights-out, and be all sly about it, and not get busted!). Let's encourage publishers to let go of their fear of change, which manifests in not offering ebooks to libraries, or in placing artifical constraints --like, say, requiring repurchase after a certain number of checkouts-- where they aren't needed. At its best, technology is the promise of access.
So, yeah. Read. Even after lights out. That is all.
j.j. johnson, author